Wednesday, April 17, 2019

SYSTEM: ANY

I'm currently in a superhero game and it's interesting because the GM and I share many traits, so now I get to see what they're like from the other side of the GM screen.

Some of them I don't much like. And I am guilty of inflicting these things on players.

Aside: I have ADHD (as you might have guessed from the way this blog moves in fits and starts) and one of the things I have noticed with my children and me is that the good really has to outweigh the bad or the ADHD person has a bad impression. Like, you have to have three compliments for every criticism in order for the person to feel it's even-handed, and a higher ratio for them to actually feel positively about the event.

So I might be biased.

However, in four sessions of superhero gaming, we have yet to win. It's Champions and five to eight players, so that's only two fights. (Cue Champions bashing, but I wouldn't have joined the campaign if I didn't accept the system.)

And what galls me and takes the fun away from me is that we won neither of those fights. The villains decided they were done and left.

Now, I can come up with narrative reasons why that's true. Maybe:

  • The GM is showing us that it's a dangerous world.
  • The GM is acquainting us with the heavy hitters of this area of the world.
  • The GM is trying to make sure that we, the players, work together as a team. (And there is a certain "You do a stupid thing, you don't have plot immunity" vibe.)

But still..four sessions and from a player standpoint it feels like we haven't succeeded at anything heroic yet.

In fact, many of our characters are so laden with power dependencies and activation rolls, that a set of 15- rolls that look impressive (15- is roughly 95%) takes three rolls, so the actual chance of success is about 86%, less if there are other modifiers that place a minus (a 15- with -5 is now a 10- and that is only about half the chance to succeed).

So there's a lesson there: let them succeed.

I'm not saying they have to succeed at everything. God, no: running D&D for the first time reminded me of some joys of failing: The glorious moment when your clever plan fails because somebody rolled a 1.

But if you go back and look at the source material, the heroes usually have some kind of victory:

  • They save the innocent.
  • They capture the henchmen (who will no doubt be on the street again by tomorrow).
  • They prevent the theft of the Jade Cloud of the Phoenix, while not preventing the theft of the ancient Imperial Chinese instruction manual, so the bad guy doesn't have it but the heroes don't know how to use it to stop the bad guy.

These might be partial victories but they are victories. And they're pretty consistent: the good guys win somehow most of the time—over half the time, maybe ninety percent of the time, maybe better. Actual total losses are generally reserved for the darkest moment, right before the climactic battle.

I'm reading Gail Simone's Domino right now, and Domino wins in some fashion most of the time. In a dozen issues, the bleakest moment I can remember was when she had no control over her luck, and even there, the issue ended with her finding someone (Shang-Chi) who could help her. Domino has some reasons for being so down on herself: not everything works, and sometimes it works the wrong way. And really, you're not going to confuse Domino with Superman as far as heroism goes. But there's usually a partial success.

In story-telling terms, the issues and fights are usually "no, but" or "yes, and": "No, you lose but there's a way out of it."

A "No, and" answer is one that feels like, "No, you don't win, and here's something that makes it worse."

Maybe the ADHD makes me more sensitive here. But I feel like in four sessions, you should be able to point to two wins.

And that's something that I can take way from this as a GM and occasional adventure writer.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Overheard, in my head

SYSTEM: Any

There's this superhero world:

"I'd rather not be rescued by you."


"It's a rescue."


"You have fewer than five adventures. Statistically, you're going to
muff this one, and I don't want to be your victim."


"So you'd...rather stay a prisoner of the blood-drinking
shape-changing supervillain?"


"My odds are better."


Maybe it's a back cover blurb for the adventure I haven't written yet.



Saturday, March 23, 2019

Location-based superhero adventures

SYSTEM: ICONS

I saw the ad for Pamphlet Dungeon Jam and of course it had me thinking of superhero adventures.

Superhero stuff tends to follow a villain rather than a place, so location or dungeon based adventures are rare. In general, I can think of these cases that show up more than once:

  • Lairs — This is the hero lair, which has defenses which have turned against them, or the villain lair, which has defenses to keep the villains out. You certainly can do it as a separate adventure, but the villain lair tends to be the climax of the adventure, after other stuff.
  • The crime scene — The entire adventure can be wrapped up with one attempt. For instance, you could do an entire adventure based in a museum, for instance, where the heroes know the bad guys are coming, but they don't know for what. Or there are two attacks at the museum the same time: maybe one is a diversion for the other, or maybe it's two groups trying for the same thing, and they fight while the heroes try to figure out how to stop them and protect the innocents, or even it's just a coincidence but they decide to team up and take on the heroes.
  • The special place — Something like Fainting Goat Games' "Helicarrier Heist" would fit here, or maybe one of the adventure seeds with the Green Ronin Mutants & Masterminds Freedom City maps. (One could consider the lair situation to be a part of this, but I think it deserves its own category.) I'd put the superjail-gone-bad here, too.

Any of these would do for comic stories, especially before things became so decompressed, but for RPG adventures the first and third are most common.

The concept that appeals to me right now is the supervillain lair, but as a dungeon in itself. That is, you're not going to run up against the original owner. No, he's been caught and in the process seriously weakened the most powerful heroes in your campaign world (who aren't the PCs). And now the PCs are tasked with deactivating the base...because he left contingency plans that would launch the world-wide disaster.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Thoughts on Champions, after umpteen years

SYSTEM: CHAMPIONS

I've just joined a Champions campaign and tonight we had our first session. Please don't take what I'm about to write as critical of the GM or the other players; this is what I felt throughout the session. I mention these things here because I'm pretty sure that I have inflicted all of these on players at one time or another, and I think they're specific to the game system, or encouraged by the game. They are part of the reason why I stopped running Champions years ago.

A Brief Digression

I just want to say that I think that Champions and the Hero System have many virtues. For the simulation of the physics of a particular fictional reality or specifying a power, there is nothing better, I think. If you want a left-handed werewolf with cybernetic implants who fights with a katana and a taser, and who has spells that only work on the Thursday after a full moon, there is nothing better.

The only thing I've ever tried to play that comes near it in terms of that specificity is Wild Talents because it added the utility category for custom powers.

So if what you want is the ability to say exactly what your power is, Hero System is your jam. If you want to be able to build the world in game terms and have it be consistent, Hero System is the way to go. Hero System ought to be the first step in simulating any fictional reality; its fingerprints are all over Jim Gardner's Spark Vs. Dark books, even though I've tried to convert them to ICONS.

There are some things, good things, that Hero System does that no other game does.

End digression.

Back to My Point

That ability to create very specific worlds? Often means you do.

Which in turn creates really lengthy histories and games that are in media res except the media is a history lesson. That's not the fault of the game system (which has nothing to do with the history of your campaign world) but I think it's a symptom.

And combat is slow.

Look, tonight we had one—onemdash;combat. It was, admittedly, a difficult one: six players and something like twenty (maybe thirty) GM characters. A lot. We had less time than usual, mostly because I arrived late. (Last in, first out: maybe that's my mantra. I didn't mean for it to happen that way, but I had stuff before and after the session.) My character is speed six. I acted twice.

Now, to some extent, roleplaying is about the journey and not the destination. Fun with the gang, references to Firefly, D&D, previous games/campaigns/whatever. But in combat, in Champions, when combat is happening, you are not doing anything when it's not your turn. If you whiff (as I did, rolling a 17 on one to-hit roll), you do nothing.

In previous campaigns, I was speed 6 and I acted more often than anyone else (usually). Another PC is speed 8, and the villains are as bad. Is that a fault of the GM or the game system? I dunno; I go back to Theron Bretz's contention that SPD in Champions is spotlight time. The higher your speed, the more likely you are to get time in the spotlight. IOne character, a GM character, was speed 4 (I presume; he acted in segment 3). Since he had been mind-controlled to untie me (yes, I was tied up with wire at the start of the combat), I was rather interested in him acting, but he did not, not for most of the combat (and someone else had moved e out of range by the time he acted).

Right now, that's really the thing that I put at the system: the combat. Slow. That's kinda my overwhelming impression of Champions combat right now. And I've been trying to figure out why that bothers me so much. Am I that glory-hungry?

<;p>Wheel, maybe I am. I like to GM, after all. But I also saw a lot of stuff tonight that was, well, me as a GM, and that's what makes me think that maybe the game system encourages them.

Anyway, somewhere along the line I got the idea that fights have a point.

  • The heroes are outclassed by the villains in this city.
  • The Heroes are bad-asses who put down regular thugs.
  • This particular villain is difficult to deal with.
The point varies depending on where we are in the adventure or who is involved. (I originally wrote "in the story" but that's wrong: I have grown to believe that RPG adventures are situations and the story grows out of what they do. Still, beginning/middle/end are useful emarcations in terms what the point is.)

But: Slow. Slow. Slow.

There's also the fantabulous point inflation. I have on my character sheet that I know the supervillain population. Villains also have reputations. We rolled on reputations; I suspect that I could have rolled on my skill roll (whichever as higher), on the theory that "reputations" are meant for the general populace, not somebody who really cares about this stuff. Sorry, distracted: the point is, that I have a knowledge skill for the rituals of the cult I used to belong to, and one for its members, and one for ... Actually, I have four knowledge skills that relate to that particular cult and parts of it. I have a separate k=skill for analyzing the behaviour of cults.

On the one hand, I totally see that those are separate things. On the other hand, I think, "Are those the pointof the game?"

End of Rambling

Look, I'll be back for the next game, when we play some more of the combat. I had a good enough time that I don't want to quit. However, by the same token, I'm not blind to the flaws of my childhood crush.

No game does everything perfectly. The best you can hope for is a good fit for you and not to be sucky when it doesn't fit someone else as well.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Some ICONS Play

SYSTEM: ICONS

A Sample of Play

In response to nobody, I thought I'd put a small sample of a story (that I'll make up) and how it would play in ICONS terms.

Will'o'whap

For reference, here's Will-o-whap:

Will-o-whap (William Chandler)
PRW CRD STR INT AWR WIL Det. Stamina
6 4 7 4 5 6 1 13
Specialties
  • Martial Arts (+1)
  • Mental Resistance (+1)
Powers
  • Incredible (7) Phasing
    • Extra: Regeneration
    • Extra: Dazzle
    • Extra: Stunning Extra: Affects phased targets Limit: He ends phase in same state as target. (If he had Damage Resistance I wouldn't count it as a limit.) Extra: Burst
  • Good (5) Images
    • Limit: No conscious control
Qualities
  • Child of the light
  • Arch-enemy: Backstab
  • New at this
Origin Transformed (+2 to Strength)

He got his powers like ten minutes ago, but the supervillains of SWARM have hostages. (No doubt the accident they caused to show they were serious created him.) He needs to infiltrate their base!

Some Minions

The first fictional bit involves minions, the Bug Patrol.

The Bug Patrol agents are pretty standard:

The Bug Patrol
PRW CRD STR INT AWR WIL Stamina
3 4 4 3 4 3 7
Specialties
  • Military (+1)
  • Weapon (guns)(+1)
Equipment
  • Uniform & Goggles: Weak (1) Damage Resistance
    • Extra: Sensory Resistance Limit: Sight only (acts as +2 or level 3)
  • Gun. One of:
    • Great (6) Shooting
      • Extra: Burst; Limit: if Extra is used, takes 5 pages to recharge
    • Great (6) Binding (net)
    • Great (6) Blast, Extra: Affects Phasing, Limit: Takes 5 pages to recharge
Qualities Minion

And here we go.

FictionGame Mechanics

It turns out that I suck at being sneaky; maybe because of the whole "glowing" thing. I came out of the wall to find four Bug Patrol agents pointing pistols at me. And yeah, they had dark goggles on so I couldn't do the whole blind-them thing I had done outside.


Four minions. No one here is really surprised.

Initiative:

  • Will'o'whap: CRD + 1d6 = 5+3 = 8
  • Bug Patrol: CRD + 1d6 = 4+3 = 7

So Will goes first.


I held my hands up. “Hi.” No sound came out, because I was still intangible: I didn't interact with the normal world. But a glowing orange speech bubble appeared that said, “Hi.”

Is there a rule that you should have your powers for at least a week before you break into a headquarters? There should be; I didn't know I did that if I talked while intangible.

Still, I lunged and stuck my hand through the nearest one. He stiffened and then fell down. We all stiffened for a moment because none of us knew I could do that, and then I got two more.

The fourth one shot me with something that hurt and I turned solid.


Will'o'whap jabs his hand through nearest one (Prowess vs Prowess): 6+1d6 vs 3+1d6 = 11 vs 4; a massive success.

Because it's a cool thing, now the Bug Patrol members are surprised. He has Burst on the power (anyone in touch range) so he tries them all.

His Stunning is against Str, but his Stunning is 7 and Bug Patrol members are strength 4, so he's got to roll quite low to fail the Stun vs. Str roll. The first 3 he hits and stuns, but he misses the fourth.

It's the end of the panel so he suddenly discovers that he's tangible; limitation on the power but he doesn't know that.

  • Will's Stamina: 7 (13 - 6)
  • Bug Patrol members standing: 1 (4 - 3)


I grabbed him, which he didn't expect, swung him up against the tiled ceiling and down against the floor. He was out cold.


Will'o'whap manages to grab him (Prowess versus Prowess again). He throws the minion up to the ceiling and the damage from hitting the ceiling knocks him out. (Minion rules; otherwise he'd close to out or out, depending on whether the GM applied damage again from hitting the ground: Strength 7 is 7 damage, minus 1 for the uniform, or 6. That means a fall of 2 or more damage would knock him out. A kind GM would do it.)


I quickly checked the three I had phase-punched. Still breathing, still with a heartbeat. Good.

Uh...where is the control room? I asked myself. I smacked myself in the head (gently and figuratively), because being captured would really have been the easiest way to find the control room.

Because they take you there to gloat, right? (Or have decades of mass media been lying to me?)

Rather than wander aimlessly around the corridors looking for the control room, I decided on a search pattern, spiraling in to the center, and began jogging through walls. (I had one oops moment when I walked through the women's washroom but it was unoccupied. Still, it reminded me of one of the hazards of this power.)

He's got Regeneration, so I assume he's back at full Stamina by now: he gets 7 Stamina every 10 panels, so it seems likely.


One of the rooms was a gym. More specifically, it was a workout room for supers, because I found one there, in full costume. (Memo: don't get a cape; then you have to practice all your moves with the cape. Same for dusters.) She was working on a particular move with a robot and I saw her reach through the robot before she noticed me.

Um. She could go intangible too.

This might be a roll of Awareness, or maybe it's a gift. I choose gift, because it makes things so much more uncomfortable.

Better stop for a moment and explain (invent?) who she is.

Backstab: a villain for the ages

Well, we know from those Qualities up there that this is going to be his arch-nemesis. I'll use the method in ICONS Assembled to produce an enemy for Will. I roll a 10, so this character is a Reflection, which means Artificial. Hrm. Didn't see that coming.

Backstab (Felicia Night)
PRW CRD STR INT AWR WIL Det. Stamina
4 5 5 6 6 5 10
Specialties
  • Weapons (Blades) (+1)
  • Stealth (+1)
Powers
  • Fair (4) Slashing
    • Extra: Phasing
  • Incredible (7) Teleportation
    • Limit: Medium (shadows)
    • Extra: Regeneration
    • Extra: Invisibility in shadows
  • Incredible (7) Life Support (needs "food", affected by vacuum, disease-like things)
Qualities
  • Escapee from another dimension
  • Hates Will'o'whap
  • Constantly fights her programmed nature
Origin Artificial (+2 to Strength)

In my head, there's a whole backstory but essentially she was built and programmed as a servant for the alternate-dimension equivalent of Will Chandler. She managed to escape to another dimension, and she's been hardening herself, killing humans: humans who made her, humans who dictated that she live in servitude. And she's programmed to love William Chandler, so she fights against him the hardest of all.

Heck, she probably saw Will at the site and chose him to go into the accident, assuming he'd die.

Will'o'whap knows nothing about this.

FictionGame Mechanics

“Hey. Um. Backstab. Big fan.” Not that she could hear me, but the damned speech bubble formed right there by my head.

She smiled and grabbed her mouth protector, slipped it into her mouth under the mask. I probably should have charged her but I was wondering if maybe I wanted to run away instead.

Then she attacked and the decision was taken out of my hands.

She gets time to prepare, so nobody is surprised.

  • Will's Initative: 7 (4+3)
  • Backstab's Initiative: 6 (5+1)

He wastes his move in dithering, so she stabs him.

It's Prowess versus Prowess again, and she rolled a 6 and has a +1 from Specialties, for 11; he rolled a 1 and has +1 from Martial arts, so that's 8: A major success. She gets to roll Stun (it's a killing attack) but gets a 1 (for 5) versus his 5 (total 12) so he's not stunned.

He is down 4 Stamina, though: her attack is Slashing 4.

  • Will's Stamina: 9 (13-4) Determination: 1
  • Backstab's Stamina: 10


That hurt but it didn't incapacitate me. It would soon, though; I had to be running on adrenaline. I circled her like it was a bout at the dojo. I considered running but she could turn intangible too.

I didn't have much time. Probably sooner rather than later I'd notice the hole in my side.

I had to try and distract her. I flared to brilliance, hoping to blind her.

I think it worked; her next thrust missed and I chopped at her outstretched arm.


That would be a Dazzle attack, which is Coordination based. He has Coordination 4, she has Coordination 5. He rolls a 5, she rolls a 3, so he has a moderate success. She's dazzled for one page.

She rolls a 1 to attack and he rolls a 6: 6 versus 11. That's a massive failure.

According to the rules, you get an automatic attack back when someone attacks with Prowess and manages a massive fail. So he automatically gets a moderate success. (It would be smart to disarm her but a moderate success isn't enough to apply the Grab maneuver and I'll demonstrate putting a quality on someone in the next page.)

  • Will's Stamina: 9
  • Backstab's Stamina: 3 (10 - 7)

She was better than I was, so I had to be smart and lucky. With luck she was still blinded...so I stepped inside the robot she had there, the one that hadn't moved since I had come into the room, and tried very hard to be smaller than it was. I held my breath.


He's trying to apply the Quality "Hidden for ambush" to himself. As GM, I figure it's best done with a Maneuver (a roll) of his Stealth (well, his Coordination because he doesn't have Stealth) versus her Awareness. However, she's recovering from being dazzled, so I'll give him a +2 for his Maneuver. The roll sucks though: he gets a 1 and she gets a 5, for a value of 5 for him and 11 for her.


I've already mentioned the quiet of the ghost world, right? Except this time I could hear her, muffled by her mouth protector. "Come out," she said. "I don't want to hurt Sparbot." Then the robot jumped to one side and she lunged again. I dodged away as fast as I could.


She gives instructions to the robot, then phases to stab him. She gets 7 (from 4+1+2), he gets 8 (from 6+1+1), so he dodges. Barely. He blew his panel again, waiting inside a robot.


All I could do was attack, ghost to ghost. I hit her solidly and she fell down and through the floor. Maybe I should have gone after her — what if she couldn't breathe? — but I thought about the hostages up in the control room and decided that was more important. I took a second, though: I turned solid and checked her tablet and phone, which were lying on the bench. The phone was locked but the tablet wasn't and score! it had a map of the base. I memorized it and headed straight for the control room.


He hits, with 10 (6+4) versus 7 (4+3). That does 7 damage so it knocks her unconscious even if you figure she'd gotten some Stamina back from her regeneration.





Sunday, December 30, 2018

Flashbacks?

SYSTEM: ANY

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Jolly Kwanzaa, Super Solstice, Happy New Year.

I read Edgar Cantero's Meddling Kids over the holidays and am wondering how you'd turn it into a CoC scenario. Specifically, how could you use flashbacks to further the story instead of straightjacketing everyone by what has already happened?

One way is just to have the flashbacks strictly defined, of course: the GM calls for them and the details get filled in buy the end of the scene isn't really in doubt. But I'm looking for something a bit more free-form.

In Encounter Theory (and elsewhere) there's an idea that certain scenes provide a bit of information for the final boss fight, and that's what I'm thinking of. Maybe if you defined what that information needed to be closely enough (and had players who were willing to go along with it) you could say, "this flashback will define whether Bad Guy was at the scene back in the day." Though I haven't read DramaSystem, it might be a bit like a supplication: you want X result, and you get it or not.

In that case, the PCs could call for a flashback any time they want, to remember a crucial piece of information, even if they're running from Old Man Withers-cum-shoggoth.

That seems do-able, though it would add to the complexity. For time reasons, you'd probably want to limit the number of flashbacks to one per PC, and maybe one team one.

Heh...you could also do Rashomon if your players were up to it: all the flashbacks are the same events, but froma particular point of view.

Anyway...thoughts? Would it bend the scenario too much?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

No, I’m Not Dead Yet

SYSTEM: ICONS

Musings that come out of the latest BAMF podcast. If you want to listen to it first, it is here.

I started by thinking of the old Hero Games practice of labelling certain powers as potential story-breakers. “If someone has this power, it will probably derail many plots and adventures”

While I think it's a great idea (and one I have stolen in the past for campaign design: “These powers are verboten or need to have heavy limits....”), I wonder if the power level is the right place to apply it.

Even though it might be more words total, I suspect that this is a per-adventure thing, and might be better applied there.

A murder mystery, for instance, might be totally undone by a hero's Telepathy, even if the actual killer was set up for Death By Cop and isn't around to be questioned.

<Digression>

A vigilante hero — maybe Touchstone — who gets to pick one crime and his mystical gadget will identify the guilty party when pressed against the perpetrator's skin. Can only be reset by identifying the guilty party or a long mystical ritual that is only worth going through between adventures when the guilty party has no touchable skin, such as jail in South Africa or death by acid. The question must also be asked correctly, but I don't see that as a big problem; a skill or specialty in power use would offset it.

I'm imagining stealth, lockpicking, the Ring of Samash (made of unicorn horn), and two trusty pistols (named Crime and Punishment). Maybe a grappling gun.

In ICONS:

Touchstone
Prowess4Intellect4 
Coordination4Awareness4 
Strength4Willpower5 
Stamina9Determination2 
Specialties Law (+1), Martial Arts (+1), Weapons (guns) (+1), Power use: Detect (+1)
Powers
  • Great (6) Detect: Ring of Samash (Is this person guilty of specified crime?) Limit: Can only change question with Advantage or if answer is “Yes” (+2 levels from 4)
  • Fair (4) Shooting: Pistol Extra: Fast Attack (second pistol)
  • Fair (4) Grappling Gun (Swinging)
Qualities
  • Father killed by escaped criminal
  • Tough DA
  • Mother and brother don't know

</Digression>

Anyway, a given adventure might or might not be derailed by something like Telepathy. In some games, Danger Sense is very powerful and might break an adventure that relies on surprise; in others, it's just an enhanced awareness.

What I'm wondering instead is whether an adventure should have something like this at the beginning:

Broken by

  • Telepathy
  • Phasing


These are powers that are very difficult to safeguard against for this adventure, short of negating the power itself. This includes powers that would normally be circumvented but in this adventure, there's no way to make the circumvention happen.

Bent by

Mind Control
You can get around this by giving Maliciousness some mental defense
Teleportation
Being trapped is important to allow gadget users a chance to shine; if a character has teleportation, the prison is surrounded by teleportation shields that can be bypassed at the cost of burning out the teleporation ability for at least this adventure.

These powers can be circumvented, and here's how! (The reason for the circumvention might need to be adjusted. If the reason doesn't apply in your game, the power becomes a “Broken By” powers.)

Is that useful? I dunno. It seems to me that most writers go through that list any time they produce an adventure for publication, even if only mentally. (Adventures for your home group generally don't, because you know what your group's characters can do. You've either taken care of the problematic powers or they don't show up for you at all.

I know I would have found it useful in adapting some published adventures to my group (yes, I'm looking at you, Champions).

Still, modern adventures tend to do a better job of handling these sorts of exceptions, so maybe this is a solution in search of a problem.

Upshot

Let's broaden the scope a bit.

So in an adventure, we want:

  • Scenes with purpose
  • Problems rather than solutions (generally, I figure that if I can imagine one way to get out, that's good enough; the players can think of more, and I don't ever have to tell them what that one way is, let alone direct them to it)
  • Reusable NPCs and organizations for the world-building
  • A list of things not to do or it will break the adventure
  • A suggestion what to do when the players take the obviously bad turn (Professor McGlothlin talked about this as "What if the characters take the agreement?")

Don't stress yourself out too much, though: you aren't writing a story. I think Mr. Kenson was right in saying that story really happens as you recount the adventure.

And remember:

  • They will try things you had not thought of.
  • They won't do the thing you think is so obvious.

It's a wonder that adventures ever get written at all.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dammit.

So I figured I was recovering pretty well from the hernia surgery so I tried going in to work yesterday.

Mistake.

I not only had to leave early but I think I’m back where I was last Saturday.

Farzing grebbernaf bandersnatches!


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Daughter of Silence (Craigslist story)

SYSTEM: NONE

I had hoped to have this done by Hallowe'en, but deaths and funerals and surgery prevented that.

As usual, it's a first draft. I might change it later and (I hope) make it better.

It's kind of an experiment, because superheroes are all about competence and horror is all about tension: will this work? Will it not?

The Daughter of Deep Silence

I’m listening to a serial killer, which is not a scenario that usually goes to a good place. Currently he’s just a voice on the intercom but the fact that I’m hearing him means that things have gone wrong.

Like usual.

#

Flashback, yesterday. I’m in my bathroom popping a pimple. This pimple is right inside my knee and it hurts every step I take. I have no health insurance but it’s not a big or deep pimple.

Glamorous life of a supervillain. (Also, it’s satisfying to pop pimples. Do not judge me.)

Anyway, I’m twisted up with a leg on the sink trying to get a good pinching grip and I look up at the mirror on the medicine cabinet.

I am looking at a fleshless skull.

I shriek once because I do not expect this. The skull opens its mouth and in that instant the horrifying image becomes a science experiment.

I open my mouth, it opens its mouth. I close, it closes. I turn my head, it turns. I count teeth on the lower jaw, trying to see of the wisdom teeth are still there, when I notice it doesn’t have my filling.

Then the filling appears.

The conclusion is clear: Someone is messing with my mind. In real-time.

So I finish with the pimple (at least I hope I do; when someone is messing with your mind, anything is possible) and then look up at the mirror again.

A shrouded woman in Victorian funeral clothes is looking at my skull in the mirror. She has empty sockets instead of eyes and is crying blood. Total unreasoning fear floods me and I am stuck there with one leg up on the sink.

I can’t help checking over my shoulder. Nope. Nothing there.

I nod to the figure in the mirror. Professional courtesy. “Red Mary,” I say, as politely as I can without any spit in my mouth.

And she is gone.

#

I was so freaked that I grabbed my dog, Slobberkin, and left, slowing down only to put on pants and shoes. I have practiced getting out fast and I set records that day. I was a block away before I could even think. All jittery from adrenaline, I jogged Slobberkin to the nearest dog park, which made him happy, and I spent a little bit of time not-thinking on purpose.

After I let Slobberkin loose to run like a maniac, I walked slowly, trying to marshal what I knew of Red Mary.

Look, a lot of people see superfolk as evidence of magic without rules. But if there are no rules, how can you plan anything? How can you exploit the rules? So I chose to believe that she was some kind of mutant or dimensional extrusion. Even if she was magical, the magic must have rules, somehow.

Her mission was vengeance: she was no hero. She preyed on those who prey on women. A typical vengeance saw the man (usually a man) flayed, killed, and his corpse reanimated to deal with his enablers. She wasn’t effective in a systemic way: men still abused women. But if you were the man she targeted, well, you weren’t doing it again.

Back in high school, girls said you could invoke her with blood and an invocation, but you couldn’t put her down or control her. We learned the invocation but I don’t know that she ever showed up.

She had been doing this for…a decade? A century? A millennium?

Nobody knew.

My fear slowly went away and was replaced by anger and indignation. I hadn’t hurt any women. I hadn’t tried to summon her. I had been minding my own business.

I sat on the bench and did some searching with my phone. When you put “Protection from Red Mary” into a search engine, you don’t get directed to nice places.

Funny, that.

I thought the gist of it was going to be “So long, you’re done” but unpleasant people had ideas. There were some things I just wasn’t going to do (the thigh bones of a virgin?) and some I didn’t have access to (like the remains of a Catholic Saint) but that left something to try.

That night I put Slobberkin in his crate (I’m crate-training him) and surrounded the crate and the bed with a thick ring of kosher salt.

It took twelve boxes.

It also didn’t work.

#

Air thick and sooty with something industrial. Leaving a child—a little girl, the only source of joy. The girl had a doll as long as my hand, and she showed it to…me? Her mother. The viewpoint. Like going to see Shakespeare, I missed most of what was being said but I got the feeling.

Adjust the dress and out into a smoky awful world. Cobblestone streets, brick houses jammed together and interspersed with wooden shacks like rotten teeth in a hillbilly’s mouth. Fog or smog or industrial fumes. Standing on a corner near a…theatre of some kind?

Victorian London.

The one that sucked, without Oscar Wilde-like parties and witticisms.

A man—no, the man—approached. When he had her alone, he said that she was special. Gorgeous, he said. He wanted her. He wanted…he wanted her blood? A vampire? No, a doctor or something. Had a syringe. He wanted to inject her with something.

I—she—refused.

He offered meus—her—money. No. Rinse, lather, repeat. Eventually it became obvious to us, her, that she wasn’t getting out without saying yes.

He was nice about it, at first; then insistent. She was beautiful, he said; he couldn’t bear to be without her, he said. He didn’t want to lose her again.

I didn’t feel that she knew him. The “again” was just nonsense. I wanted to scream, to tell her that he was obviously a psycho, but I was just a passenger in this dream.

Injection. Burning sensation, a hot itch that spread from the site. He counted five minutes. She was restless, but the payment had included the time.

“Now,” he said sweatily, “now you are immortal. I’ll show you.”

He had a knife.

They say you die if you die in your dreams.

They’re wrong.

#

I jerked awake, like when you have a leg spasm. I wasn’t in my bed any more—I was in front of my computer in my underwear.

The web browser was open to a picture of a man in front of a wall of dolls, which was creepy enough. In the guy’s arms was was the doll, the kid’s doll, because it was the one hundredth Victorian doll this guy had gathered.

One guess who it was.

The caption read, “If you keep looking, you’ll find it. John Q. Alias holds up a rare Victorian doll.”

But it was dated three years ago.

Why me? Why now? She wasn’t there to ask.

If any of it was true: she was in my head. She could be messing with me. For all I knew, my life-long fondness for Super Crisp cereal actually started last night.

I had an hour until it would be safe to take Slobberkin to the park. I switched to the anonymous account and started researching this guy.

The picture was in soft focus, probably to make that damn wall of dolls less creepy. He looked like he was in his fifties, about ten years older than the dream.

His name was as contrived as H. H. Holmes’: Todd Brandon. Widowed (of course). Inherited wealth from his “father.”

There are clues to being long-lived; three people have been revealed since 1980. Still, having money is its own superpower and nobody really looks. But: mysterious inheritance, check; long-held property, check; reclusive or multiple residences, check; collector of antiquities of some sort, check. Contrived or symbolic name, like A. Lucard or Jack L. N. Hyde, optional.

Apparently immortality comes with a love of wordplay and callbacks.

Brandon’s local house, the one with the doll collection, was in the Maryhill district. Maryhill was where the rich folk lived but the city crept up on it. I knew the area because there were a couple of houses there on my to-burgle list.

It was dawn. I stretched, brushed my teeth and dressed, and took my dog out to Maryhill to look at the house and area.

#

Supervillainy isn’t all superpowers and big fights. To case the house itself, I got a briefcase with glossy stock info, had Shelley put business makeup on me and dressed in a power suit. Drove up in a posh (stolen) car and rang the doorbell. Mr. Brandon wasn’t in, said the lady, but he was expected. I wasn’t on the list, but I could wait in the office?

I left the briefcase there and asked to use the powder room. No escort, so I made sure I wasn’t being watched and headed for the second floor.

The bastard had rooms of dolls. Each doll room I saw had a pattern inlaid in the floor that looked, in a word, mystical. Clever: couldn’t be erased that way. And every second I was there increased chance of discovery.

Finding the doll would have been great. Being caught by staff wouldn’t have been terrible: I’d have been reprimanded and thrown out, but at least I would have cased the place.

Being knocked unconscious and tied up was not on my list.

If you live, you learn.

#

“I don’t suppose you’re a virgin, hmm?” was the phrase that woke me up. He had a mushy British accent and some kind of speech defect. “Not in these days, more’s the pity.”

White tile and overhead lamps made the room look like a surgery from the turn of the century. What I saw next was the neatly labeled jars of chemicals and organs. I was fastened to a big padded chair, like a dentist’s chair. He had his back to me as he fussed over a tray of syringes and ugly stainless-steel instruments.

He turned around…and the flesh above his mask was yellow, cracked, and peeling. Along with the light on his head, he had some contraption to drip fluid on his eye because there was no eyelid there.

“It’s been a long game, with Mary.” He chuckled. “She wants that doll. She sends someone, I catch them. Letting her select the victims turns out to be much more…effective. The whores she picks are so rarely missed.”

I found my voice. “You’re working together?”

He shook his head. “She’d kill me, if she could. Not that it would get her the doll; every room is warded.” He tapped the syringe once to get the air bubbles out. “Now, there might be…well, a lot of pain, but when I’m done, part of you will live on. And it’s to let me continue to do my scientific work, which is the most noble purpose someone like you could have.”

I nodded and swallowed the fear in my voice. He mustn’t hear the fear.

“Doctor!” I called in the lady’s voice from behind him. “Sorry to interrupt you. At the door. A policeman says he must talk to you.”

“I can’t be disturbed. Not until I’m done.”

“He insists.”

The Doctor slipped on heavy wraparound sunglasses and adjusted his wig.

No sooner was his back to me than I was tugging at the restraints. They were metal and I couldn’t get free. Maybe someone with more time could, but I only had a minute, maybe three. He shut the door behind him. I heard the bolt slide shut. Distantly I heard him on stairs, but the door muffled everything.

Sometimes metal has a resonant frequency, like the Tacoma Narrows disaster. I sang at the restraints. I started with a low note, increased pitch until I found the right frequency. The restraints started to throb against my wrists and ankles, through the padding. I added to volume just like pushing a kid on a swing to make her go higher. Ten seconds. Twenty. A minute. More.

My wrists and ankles started to go numb from the vibration.

I heard the bolt slide again.

Harder, harder—

The restraints exploded. I fumbled on the table for a scalpel, lurched forward on numb feet.

He came in, locked the door behind him…

…and I stabbed him in the throat. He crumpled.

Stabbing him was the only way I could buy time. I wasn’t a fighter, and I knew that killing him wasn’t permanent.

He was still moving so I pulled the scalpel out and drove it in again, then slashed across the back of one knee. If a pimple there made me walk funny, cutting his tendons had to do more.

Scalpels are not made for cutting through cloth; under the pants I left a red line but didn’t cut tendons. I sank the scalpel into what I could reach, his belly, and twisted. It had to hurt. He stopped moving. He might have been faking it, or dead but getting better.

All I wanted to do was get out, with the doll if I could. Three steps got me to the door.

In clear violation of fire codes, the door had a combination lock. It didn’t move when I tried it. Locked.

Hinges on the inside, so I could remove the hinges. Would it be faster?

No: the pins were held in with some kind of welded flange.

I quickly glanced over to the air vents. Not big enough for a person.

Like he expected people to try to escape.

I had waited almost too long: Before I tried unlocking the door I ran over to a shelf and grabbed a bottle labeled Muriatic Acid in neat handwriting, dumped it onto the Doctor’s head. He had to stay dead while I worked on the door. The sound was awful and the smell was worse—and the Doctor’s scream bubbled on until he died again.

Memo: In future, try to carry gear even in a disguise.

I huffed on the buttons. Some must have been used more than others and they might be detectable. Breath condensed differently on 1 and 8 than the rest of them.

The Jack the Ripper murders were in 1888. I tried that, because see comment about immortals and wordplay.

The door pulled open…and behind me I saw the Doctor was no longer on the floor.

I didn’t know where or how he was hiding, so I left and made sure the door locked. Then I broke the lock, but that ruined the scalpel.

#

I was in a hallway. Through doorways I saw windows and night time beyond. Floodlights illuminated the middles of trees. The building had four storeys, and I was near the top. The doll was on the second floor; I could even use a window from there, but at four floors, chances of survival from the fall are fifty-fifty.

He said from the room beside me, “I’ve dealt with murderous sluts before, of course.”

How did he get there—? Ah. He was talking to every room on the intercom.

Sounded like a lot of his mouth had grown back. (Too bad.)

“I have people guarding the doll and the exits.”

I’m sure “people” was defined loosely.

“Unfortunately, forcing that kind of…regrowth…makes my need for you more urgent, so you are not be allowed to leave alive.” There was the tuneless hum. I’d heard it before, in the dream. “I’m coming for you, you wicked little tramp.”

Moving fast down the hallway, glancing in rooms. Please let one be an old timey drawing room with weapons. Please, please, please.

Nope.

I was out of hall. There was a bedroom left and probably a stairwell right, and a view of the lit driveway in front of me.

Options: Stay on this floor and have him catch up again. All I had to do was lose that fight once. Go down the stairs to the second floor (doll) or ground floor (exits). Open a window and leap for the trees.

I heard a shuffling noise behind me. I looked up: lights were going out along the length of the hall and there was a dark figure heading for me.

I ducked into the bedroom and realized that I should have ducked into the stairwell but he said he had people waiting on the ground and second floors. There I might have had a chance; here I could only pillow-fight him to death.

I wasn’t going to turn on the light, but I could hear his ragged breathing.

He was waiting there, with a knife.

The only thing he might not expect was an attack. I dove for his legs, because they were away from the knife.

He didn’t fall but at least he missed.

I rammed into him at frenzied speed and he didn’t fall.

My arm ached from the impact. I rolled to one side and grabbed a chair leg. It didn’t move either, so I pulled myself away from him as he lunged.

I pulled myself up and heaved on the chair—

It was bolted to the floor.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, right?

He lunged again but I kept the chair between us. The room was dappled from the outside lights but I could see a blackness behind him, between the bookcases. I ran for it.

Yeah, if there’d been something there I would have gotten a broken nose or worse but it was a door, and I shut him out.

As the door—wall?—shut silently, soft lights came on, near the floor, like theatre lighting. Enough to get around.

A secret passage. Very Scooby-Doo.

He could get anywhere in the house. And the lights automatically turned off when you opened the door, to keep victims unaware.

This was his murder castle.

He’d be back in the passage as soon as he got to another secret door. As I reached the railing for a circular stairwell, the stairs the lights went out again.

I started running down the stairwell. The metal stairs were carpeted for silence but I realized he could feel my movements down the stairs. He’d know when I left.

Dammit.

I descended to the bottom of the stairwell. Maybe the people on the ground floor wouldn’t expect me to come up.

The lights went out when I opened the door, and I couldn’t see a damned thing.

The basement was a terrible idea.

I slipped off my business blazer and used it to prop open the secret door. Let him stay in the dark.

(Maybe he’d trip and break his neck. That might slow him down.)

I groped for the door, slipped out. Found a light switch.

No, he wasn’t waiting for me. Instead there was a wine cooler of sorts. The whole wall was a refrigeration unit full of…bottles, face and label out. They were medicine bottles, like cough syrup bottles. The ones near the bottom had hand-written labels but farther up they were laser printed. Most of them seemed empty, but the top few were turbid.

There was something…cloudy…moving in them.

The floor was wooden, with more of those probably-mystic sigils.

“Ah, you’ve found my wine cellar.” A phlegmy chuckle. “My vault of ages, as it were.”

He was behind me. Dr. McStabby.

“I have a gun. Please don’t be foolish. I have three bottles of life left so while my need is urgent, it is not that urgent.”

“Stolen life?”

I could hear the shrug. “Eternal life. What one loses, another gains. Before my methods were crude but now I can extract life essence—vril or whatever you want to call it—and store it. Mass production is the next step. Men will pay handsomely.”

“I thought you were in this for science?”

“Profit and science are not incompatible. Think of the factories that made Britain great.” He waved me away from the wall of bottles. “Obviously you are some kind of mutant, to affect the chair as you did. That makes the estimate rough but you might have a good fifty years left.” He edged past me, covering me, and opened the door. “Together these have only twenty-seven years left. I use it at my accelerated rate and they made poor life choices.” He smiled and turned his head from me to grab a bottle.

“You have pushed my abilities to the limit, you little tart,” he hissed. “I’ll need everything here and more to recover fully, and you’re going to give me the ‘more.’”

I screamed, but not in the terrified way. I screamed in the sonic-powers-breaking-every-bottle kind of way. Dr. McStabby screamed too and fired, but the shattering glass, including the bottle in his hand spoiled the shot.

I switched to the other sound, the one that sometimes makes people sick…

It had no effect on him.

He fired again. His hand was shaking but I had no idea how many shots he had left and when he would stop missing.

If I was going to die, I was going to take him down too.

I scooped up the neck of a bottle and jammed it in his chest. (I was aiming for his throat.) I couldn’t lock him in the cooler—I had shattered the door—but I pushed him back onto the pegs of the rack.

He roared and hit me, hard.

He was a lot stronger than I was. I slid across the broken glass to the open door. Sparks flew as I knocked it off its hinges.

That gave me an idea. I grabbed the wires that ran to the thermostat and jammed them in him.

He actually paused. And laughed as he backhanded me across the floor.

“There’s a transformer, silly girl,” he said. “It’s a few volts, nothing more. Now I’m going to make this painful.”

I jammed the broken glass into the crevices in the floor, as if I were trying to pull myself up, and pulled. He was going to hit me again.

He did. Fire in one of my kidneys.

“Let’s let your life force out.” I could feel it.

I tugged at the flooring inlay again.

He knelt over the wound, inhaling my life. My life force.

I tossed aside the piece of flooring. Mystic sigil un-mysticised.

I said the words I had learned in high school: “Red Mary, defender of women, destroyer of men, I bid you.”

I blacked out but I deduce that Red Mary appeared.

#

SYSTEM: NONE

I had hoped to have this done by Hallowe'en, but deaths and funerals and surgery prevented that.

As usual, it's a first draft. I might change it later and (I hope) make it better.

The Daughter of Deep Silence

I’m listening to a serial killer, which is not a scenario that usually goes to a good place. Currently he’s just a voice on the intercom but the fact that I’m talking with him means that things have gone wrong.

Like usual.

#

Flashback, yesterday. I’m in my bathroom popping a pimple. This pimple is right inside my knee and it hurts every step I take. I have no health insurance but it’s not a big or deep pimple.

Glamorous life of a supervillain. (Also, it’s satisfying to pop pimples. Do not judge me.)

Anyway, I’m twisted up with a leg on the sink trying to get a good pinching grip and I look up at the mirror on the medicine cabinet.

I am looking at a fleshless skull.

I shriek once because I do not expect this. The skull opens its mouth and in that instant the horrifying image becomes a science experiment.

I open my mouth, it opens its mouth. I close, it closes. I turn my head, it turns. I count teeth on the lower jaw, trying to see of the wisdom teeth are still there, when I notice it doesn’t have my filling.

Then the filling appears.

The conclusion is clear: Someone is messing with my mind. In real-time.

So I finish with the pimple (at least I hope I do; when someone is messing with your mind, anything is possible) and then look up at the mirror again.

A shrouded woman in Victorian funeral clothes is looking at my skull in the mirror. She has empty sockets instead of eyes and is crying blood. Total unreasoning fear floods me and I am stuck there with one leg up on the sink.

I can’t help checking over my shoulder. Nope. Nothing there.

I nod to the figure in the mirror. Professional courtesy. “Red Mary,” I say, as politely as I can without any spit in my mouth.

And she is gone.

#

I was so freaked that I grabbed my dog, Slobberkin, and left, slowing down only to put on pants and shoes. I have practiced getting out fast and I set records that day. I was a block away before I could even think. All jittery from adrenaline, I jogged Slobberkin to the nearest dog park, which made him happy, and I spent a little bit of time not-thinking on purpose.

After I let Slobberkin loose to run like a maniac, I walked slowly, trying to marshal what I knew of Red Mary.

Look, a lot of people see superfolk as evidence of magic without rules. But if there are no rules, how can you plan anything? How can you exploit the rules? So I chose to believe that she was some kind of mutant or dimensional extrusion. Even if she was magical, the magic must have rules, somehow.

Her mission was vengeance: she was no hero. She preyed on those who prey on women. A typical vengeance saw the man (usually a man) flayed, killed, and his corpse reanimated to deal with his enablers. She wasn’t effective in a systemic way: men still abused women. But if you were the man she targeted, well, you weren’t doing it again.

Back in high school, girls said you could invoke her with blood and an invocation, but you couldn’t put her down or control her. We learned the invocation but I don’t know that she ever showed up.

She had been doing this for…a decade? A century? A millennium?

Nobody knew.

My fear slowly went away and was replaced by anger and indignation. I hadn’t hurt any women. I hadn’t tried to summon her. I had been minding my own business.

I sat on the bench and did some searching with my phone. When you put “Protection from Red Mary” into a search engine, you don’t get directed to nice places.

Funny, that.

I thought the gist of it was going to be “So long, you’re done” but unpleasant people had ideas. There were some things I just wasn’t going to do (the thigh bones of a virgin?) and some I didn’t have access to (like the remains of a Catholic Saint) but that left something to try.

That night I put Slobberkin in his crate (I’m crate-training him) and surrounded the crate and the bed with a thick ring of kosher salt.

It took twelve boxes.

It also didn’t work.

#

Air thick and sooty with something industrial. Leaving a child—a little girl, the only source of joy. The girl had a doll as long as my hand, and she showed it to…me? Her mother. The viewpoint. Like going to see Shakespeare, I missed most of what was being said but I got the feeling.

Adjust the dress and out into a smoky awful world. Cobblestone streets, brick houses jammed together and interspersed with wooden shacks like rotten teeth in a hillbilly’s mouth. Fog or smog or industrial fumes. Standing on a corner near a…theatre of some kind?

Victorian London.

The one that sucked, without Oscar Wilde-like parties and witticisms.

A man—no, the man—approached. When he had her alone, he said that she was special. Gorgeous, he said. He wanted her. He wanted…he wanted her blood? A vampire? No, a doctor or something. Had a syringe. He wanted to inject her with something.

I—she—refused.

He offered meus—her—money. No. Rinse, lather, repeat. Eventually it became obvious to us, her, that she wasn’t getting out without saying yes.

He was nice about it, at first; then insistent. She was beautiful, he said; he couldn’t bear to be without her, he said. He didn’t want to lose her again.

I didn’t feel that she knew him. The “again” was just nonsense. I wanted to scream, to tell her that he was obviously a psycho, but I was just a passenger in this dream.

Injection. Burning sensation, a hot itch that spread from the site. He counted five minutes while humming tunelessly. She was restless, but the payment had included this time.

“Now,” he said sweatily, “now you are immortal. I’ll show you.”

He had a knife.

They say you die if you die in your dreams.

They’re wrong.

#

I jerked awake, like when you have a leg spasm. I wasn’t in my bed any more—I was in my pyjamas in front of my computer.

The web browser was open to a picture of a man in front of a wall of dolls, which was creepy enough. In the guy’s arms was was the doll, the kid’s doll, because it was the one hundredth Victorian doll this guy had gathered.

One guess who it was.

The caption read, “If you keep looking, you’ll find it. John Q. Alias holds up a rare Victorian doll.”

But it was dated three years ago.

Why me? Why now? She wasn’t there to ask.

If any of it was true: she was in my head. She could be messing with me. For all I knew, my life-long fondness for Super Crisp cereal actually started last night.

I had an hour until dawn, when it would be safe to take Slobberkin to the park. I switched to the anonymous account and started researching this guy.

The browser article was new. The picture was in soft focus, probably to make that damn wall of dolls less creepy. He looked like he was in his fifties, about ten years older than the dream.

His name was as contrived as H. H. Holmes’: Todd Brandon. Widowed (of course). Inherited wealth from his “father.”

There are clues to being long-lived; three people have been revealed since 1980. Still, having money is its own superpower and nobody really looks. But: mysterious inheritance, check; long-held property, check; reclusive or multiple residences, check; collector of antiquities of some sort, check. Contrived or symbolic name, like A. Lucard or Jack L. N. Hyde, optional.

Apparently immortality comes with a love of wordplay and callbacks.

Brandon’s local house, the one with the doll collection, was in the Maryhill district. Maryhill was where the rich folk lived but the city crept up on it. I knew the area because there were a couple of houses there on my to-burgle list.

It was dawn. I stretched, brushed my teeth and dressed, and took my dog out to Maryhill to look at the house and area.

#

Supervillainy isn’t all superpowers and big fights. To case the house, I got a briefcase with glossy stock info, had Shelley put business makeup on me and dressed in a power suit. Drove up in a posh (stolen) car and rang the doorbell. Mr. Brandon wasn’t in, said the lady, but he was expected. I wasn’t on the list, but could I wait in the office?

I left the briefcase there and asked to use the powder room. No escort, so I made sure I wasn’t being watched and headed for the second floor. Quickly: every second I was there increased chance of discovery.

The bastard had rooms of dolls. Each room I saw had a pattern inlaid in the floor that looked, in a word, mystical. The inlay meant it couldn’t be erased that way.

Finding the doll would have been great. Being caught by staff wouldn’t have been terrible: I’d have been reprimanded and thrown out, but at least I would have cased the place.

Being knocked unconscious and tied up was not on my list.

If you live, you learn.

#

“I don’t suppose you’re a virgin, hmm?” was the phrase that woke me up. He had a mushy British accent and some kind of speech defect. “Not in these days, more’s the pity.”

White tile and overhead lamps made the room look like a surgery from the turn of the century. What I saw next was the neatly labeled jars of chemicals and organs. I was fastened to a big padded chair, like a dentist’s chair. He had his back to me as he fussed over a tray of syringes and ugly stainless-steel instruments.

He turned around…and the flesh above his mask was yellow, cracked, and peeling. Along with the light on his head, he had some contraption to drip fluid on his eye because there was no eyelid there.

“It’s been a long game, with Mary.” He chuckled. “She wants that doll. She sends someone, I catch them. Letting her select the victims turns out to be much more…effective. The whores she picks are so rarely missed.”

I found my voice. “You’re working together?”

He shook his head. “She’d kill me, if she could. Not that it would get her the doll; every room is warded.” He tapped the syringe once to get the air bubbles out. “Now, there might be…well, a lot of pain, but when I’m done, part of you will live on. And it’s to let me continue to do my scientific work, which is the most noble purpose someone like you could have.”

I nodded and swallowed the fear in my voice. He mustn’t hear the fear.

“Doctor!” I called in the lady’s voice from behind him. “Sorry to interrupt you. At the door. A policeman says he must talk to you.”

“I can’t be disturbed. Not until I’m done.”

“He insists.”

The Doctor slipped on heavy wraparound sunglasses and adjusted his wig.

No sooner was his back to me than I was tugging at the restraints. They were metal and I couldn’t get free. Maybe with more time I could, but I only had a minute, maybe three. He shut the door behind him. I heard the bolt slide shut. Distantly I heard him on stairs, but the door muffled everything.

Sometimes metal has a resonant frequency, like the Tacoma Narrows disaster. I sang at the restraints. I started with a low note, increased pitch until I found the right frequency. The restraints started to throb against my wrists and ankles, through the padding. I added to volume just like pushing a kid on a swing to make her go higher. Ten seconds. Twenty. A minute. More.

My wrists and ankles started to go numb from the vibration.

I heard the bolt slide again.

Harder, harder—

The restraints exploded. I fumbled on the table for a scalpel, lurched forward on numb feet.

He came in, locked the door behind him…

…and I stabbed him in the throat. He crumpled.

Stabbing him was the only way I could buy time. I wasn’t a fighter, and I knew that killing him wasn’t permanent.

He was still moving so I pulled the scalpel out and drove it in again, then slashed across the back of one knee. If a pimple there made me walk funny, cutting his tendons had to do more.

Scalpels are not made for cutting through cloth; under the pants I left a red line but didn’t cut tendons. I sank the scalpel into what I could reach, his belly, and twisted. It had to hurt. He stopped moving. He might have been faking it, or dead but getting better.

All I wanted to do was get out, with the doll if I could. Three steps got me to the door.

In clear violation of fire codes, the door had a combination lock. It didn’t move when I tried it. Locked.

Hinges on the inside, so I could remove the hinges. Would it be faster?

No: the pins were held in with some kind of welded flange.

I quickly glanced over to the air vents. Not big enough for a person.

Like he expected people to try to escape.

I had waited almost too long: Before I tried unlocking the door I ran over to a shelf and grabbed a bottle labeled Muriatic Acid in neat handwriting, dumped it onto the Doctor’s head. He had to stay dead while I worked on the door. The sound was awful and the smell was worse—and the Doctor’s scream bubbled on until he died again.

Memo: In future, try to carry gear even in a disguise.

I huffed on the buttons. Some must have been used more than others and they might be detectable. Breath condensed differently on 1 and 8 than the rest of them.

The Jack the Ripper murders were in 1888. I tried that, because see comment about immortals and wordplay.

The door pulled open…and behind me I saw the Doctor was no longer on the floor.

I didn’t know where or how he was hiding, so I left and made sure the door locked. Then I broke the lock, but that ruined the scalpel.

#

I was in a hallway. Through doorways I saw windows and night time beyond. Floodlights illuminated the middles of trees. The building had four storeys, and I was near the top. The doll was on the second floor; I could even use a window from there, but at four floors, chances of survival from the fall are fifty-fifty.

He said from the room beside me, “I’ve dealt with murderous sluts before, of course.”

How did he get there—? Ah. The intercom. He was talking to every room on the intercom.

“I have people guarding the doll and the exits.”

I’m sure “people” was defined loosely.

“Unfortunately, forcing that kind of…regrowth…makes my need for you more urgent, so you are not be allowed to leave alive.” There was the tuneless hum. I’d heard it before, in the dream. “I’m coming for you, you wicked little tramp.”

Moving fast down the hallway, glancing in rooms. Please let one be an old timey drawing room with weapons. Please, please, please.

Nope.

I was out of hall. There was a bedroom left and probably a stairwell right, and a view of the lit driveway in front of me.

Options: Stay on this floor and have him catch up again. If I lost that fight even once, I was dead. Go down the stairs to the second floor (doll) or ground floor (exits). Use a chair to smash open a window and leap for the trees.

I heard a shuffling noise behind me. I looked up: lights were going out along the length of the hall and there was a dark figure heading for me.

I ducked into the bedroom and realized that I should have ducked into the stairwell but he said he had people waiting on the ground and second floors. There I might have had a chance; here I could what? Pillow-fight him to death.

I wasn’t going to turn on the light, but I could hear his ragged breathing.

He was waiting there, in the room, with a knife.

How?

The only thing he might not expect was an attack. I dove for his legs, because they were away from the knife.

He didn’t fall or even stagger but at least he missed.

My shoulder ached from the impact. I rolled to one side and grabbed a chair leg. It didn’t move either, so I pulled myself away from him as he lunged.

I pulled myself up and heaved on the chair—

It was bolted to the floor.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, right?

He lunged again but I kept the chair between us. The room was dappled from the outside lights but I could see a blackness behind him, between the bookcases. I ran for it.

Yeah, if there’d been something there I would have gotten a broken nose or worse but it was a door, and I shut him out.

As the door—wall?—shut silently, soft lights came on, near the floor, like theatre lighting. Enough to get around.

A secret passage. Very Scooby-Doo.

He could get anywhere in the house. And the lights automatically turned off when you opened the door, to keep victims unaware.

This was his murder castle.

He’d be back in the passage as soon as he got to another secret door. As I reached the railing for a circular stairwell, the stairs the lights went out again.

I started running down the stairwell. The metal stairs were carpeted for silence but I realized he could feel my movements down the stairs. He’d know what floor I was on by when I got off.

Dammit.

I descended to the bottom of the stairwell. Maybe the people on the ground floor wouldn’t expect me to come up.

The lights went out when I opened the door, and I couldn’t see a damned thing.

The basement was a terrible idea.

I slipped off my business blazer and used it to prop open the secret door. Let him stay in the dark.

(Maybe he’d trip and break his neck. That might slow him down.)

I groped for the door, slipped out. Found a light switch and saw the new room.

No, he wasn’t waiting for me. Instead there was a wine cooler of sorts. The whole wall was a refrigeration unit full of…bottles, face and label out. They were medicine bottles, like cough syrup bottles. The ones near the bottom had hand-written labels but farther up they were laser printed. Most of them seemed empty, but the top few were turbid.

There was something…cloudy…moving in them.

The floor was wooden, with more of those probably-mystic sigils.

“Ah, you’ve found my wine cellar.” A phlegmy chuckle. “My vault of ages, as it were.”

He was behind me. Dr. McStabby.

“I have a gun. Please don’t be foolish. I have three bottles of life left so while my need is urgent, it is not that urgent.”

“Stolen life?”

I could hear the shrug. “Eternal life. What one loses, another gains. Before my methods were crude but now I can extract life essence—vril or whatever you want to call it—and store it. Mass production is the next step. Men will pay handsomely.”

“I thought you were in this for science?”

“Profit and science are not incompatible. Think of the factories that made Britain great.” He waved me away from the wall of bottles. “Obviously you are some kind of mutant, to affect the chair as you did. That makes the estimate rough but you might have a good fifty years left.” He edged past me, covering me, and opened the door. “Together these have only twenty-seven years left. I use it at my accelerated rate and they made poor life choices.” He smiled and turned his head from me to grab a bottle.

“You have pushed my abilities to the limit, you little tart,” he hissed. “I’ll need everything here and more to recover fully, and you’re going to give me the ‘more.’”

I screamed, but not in the terrified way. I screamed in the sonic-powers-breaking-every-bottle kind of way. Dr. McStabby screamed too and fired, but the shattering glass, including the bottle in his hand spoiled the shot.

I switched to the other sound, the one that sometimes makes people sick…

It had no effect on him.

He fired again. His hand was shaking but I had no idea how many shots he had left and when he would stop missing.

If I was going to die, I was going to take him down too.

I scooped up the neck of a bottle and jammed it in his chest. (I was aiming for his throat.) I couldn’t lock him in the cooler—I had shattered the door—but I pushed him back onto the pegs of the rack.

He roared and hit me, hard.

He was a lot stronger than I was. I slid across the broken glass to the open door. Sparks flew as I knocked it off its hinges.

That gave me an idea. I grabbed the wires that ran to the thermostat and jammed them in him.

He actually paused. And laughed as he backhanded me across the floor.

“There’s a transformer, silly girl,” he said. “It’s a few volts, nothing more. Now I’m going to make this painful.”

I jammed the broken glass into the crevices in the floor, as if I were trying to pull myself up, and pulled. He was going to hit me again.

He did. Fire filled one of my kidneys.

“Let’s let your life force out.” I could feel it.

I tugged at the flooring inlay again.

He knelt over the wound, inhaling my life. My life force.

I tossed aside the piece of flooring. Mystic sigil un-mysticised.

I said the words I had learned in high school: “Red Mary, defender of women, destroyer of men, I bid you.”

Red Mary appeared.

#

A gift: The wound was gone. I moved through the death and destruction to collect the doll and my personal belongings. I made my way through the death and destruction, collecting the doll and evidence of me. In the kitchen I put a lit candle on top of the refrigerator, then covered my hands with towels and opened all the gas vents.

I wish I could tell you that Red Mary appeared in my dreams and told me everything was fine, but I never heard from her again.


A gift: The wound was gone. I collected the doll and my personal belongings. In the kitchen I put a lit candle on top of the refrigerator, then covered my hands with towels and opened all the gas vents.

They ruled the fire as an accident. The doll disappeared from my apartment that night.

And I haven't heard of Red Mary since.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Musings as avoidance

SYSTEM: ICONS

Thoughts while I try to avoid thinking about the bad news that’s consuming me.

  • I just realized that putting an Affliction as the secondary effect on an Energy Drain (Or any damaging attack, really) gives you lingering effects for the attack. Like, the blood thinner on the sword makes them keep bleeding, or the vertigo (stunning) that just won’t go away.

    Might be an interesting way to treat lingering effects for some genres. (Trouble or a new Quality might be better.)

  • I just got BubbleGumshoe and I’m thinking about where and if you could blend it with ICONS, though maybe without a Quade diagram equivalent: silver age and before had a number of mystery books. Might be good for a Crisis-style arc or short-shot: they’re often structured around mysteries, like Heroes in Crisis or Identity Crisis.
  • Could you do a fifteen-minute podcast that’s just fleshing out adventure ideas? Get two or three people to talk, each episode someone brings a premise and they riff on it for fifteen or twenty minutes? Would that even be interesting? (Okay, it would be to me, but I suspect there already is one like that; I just don’t know about it.)

  • I know there’s something about teen heroes that isn’t served by Masks, but I haven’t been able to put it into words. Thoughts?
  • Why doesn’t Deadman find someone brain-dead and possess them permanently? (And then set about killing Rama Kushna, perhaps)


  • Do self-aware tulpas found religions? Do they lock up True Believers so they have assured existence?